Interphase: Exodus – Chapter 28

“The fuel capacity’s been expanded to ensure that we can travel almost halfway around the world and return to base without needing to refuel,” Walter explained, his powerful voice carrying easily over the drone of the carrier’s quad engines.

Mike nodded and further studied the layout as a burst of turbulence prompted him to tighten his grip on the nylon handle hanging from the ceiling. The bulky, military-grade plane was equipped with rows of seats along the walls, but most of the armed personnel opted to stand forward, prepared to utilize the same position when the transport was loaded with civilians. They swayed in rhythm with the carrier’s motions. “How many passengers can she carry?” Mike asked.

“One-hundred eighty-four is the listed safe limit,” Walter replied, “but that’s for fully geared soldiers. I figure we can squeeze up to two-hundred and fifty people into this can.”

“You said we’ve got twenty-one of these carriers?” At the nodded affirmation, Mike shook his head and frowned. “That’s not a lot of capacity to evacuate the survivors of an entire planet.”

The hired soldier shrugged, his hard-bitten features stony. “It’s what the GSC could scrounge, borrow or steal on short notice.”

Knowing that complaints and fretting weren’t going to get the job done, Mike swallowed his reservations and focused on the upcoming mission. Their target was Tala, a small town in Uruguay far enough away from Montevideo to be relatively unharmed by the missile or its fallout. Archived satellite photos from the Exodus base showed that its population was only around four thousand people, small enough that the likelihood of nanite infection was slim but still large enough that a rescue mission was deemed worthwhile.

The planes switched into vertical landing mode to touch down in a broad field on the outskirts of town, beside an empty, two lane highway. Mike followed Walter out of the carrier with another three soldiers at his back. They made their way to the first block of houses, keeping their gazes roving for possible threats.

The sound of the carriers’ propellers drew the attention of onlookers. Walter lifted a megaphone to his mouth and spoke several lines of Spanish that Mike strained to follow. His familiarity with the language had grown rusty over the years, but he caught phrases like “recent tragedy in Montevideo”, “have been deemed unsafe”, and “trying to evacuate as many people as possible”. A few men approached the group and pelted Walter with questions in rapid-fire Spanish. Mike gave up trying to follow the conversation and instead watched expressions. The civilians seemed nervous and wary. Walter’s tone grew softer, reassuring but still with a note of urgency. He pointed back the way the men had come, spoke more words in Spanish that sounded a bit like commands, and a couple of the younger men ran back toward the houses.

“What’s going on?” Mike asked.

“They’ve been trying to get word about what’s happened to the capitol after the missile hit, but communications are completely down. They’ve been too scared of potential fallout to try and venture outside of town, and most everyone’s been staying inside their homes.” Walter pointed at the two who had disappeared behind the houses. “They’re going to start knocking on doors, gathering people who are ready to leave.”

“They think we’re just here to save them from the radiation, don’t they?” Mike guessed.

“It’s not a lie,” Walter answered, and motioned with his head toward the carriers. “Grab the vaccine kits, and hope the eggheads didn’t screw up the rush order. We gotta move fast.”

Mike nodded and made for the plane. Two older men followed him, talking animatedly in Spanish, and presented their arms to him as soon as he’d grabbed the first container. He shook his head apologetically at their questions as he delivered the injections. “It’s going to be all right,” he assured them, hoping his tone was enough to calm their fears. “We’re going to take you some place safe. I promise.”


Don watched Jason approach the table where Connor was strapped down and pressed a hand over his mouth to suppress his gag reflex. Even after three days, the pale, stiff body continued its feeble struggles. The blank, unseeing eyes darted back and forth, the fingers twitched, and every so often a jolt ran through the torso, like a stray current through a broken machine.

Jason gripped the sword in both hands, frowning with disgust as Connor’s head jerked in his direction, and eased the tip of the blade into the body’s side, just above the hip. The corpse convulsed once, then went limp against the table. Don watched with bated breath for several moments, but Connor’s stillness was absolute.

An audible sigh of relief went through the assembled lab techs as Jason withdrew the weapon. Don knew they would need to run additional tests to make certain the nanites’ destruction was total, but he shared in their relief.

“Thank God,” Sarah breathed as Jason walked toward them.

“Worked even faster than I’d predicted,” Jason remarked, his gaze moving up and down the length of the blade. “The hive’s replaced every inch of the steel. Any point of contact should be completely lethal to an infected person.”

Don looked askance at the sword. To his eyes, it seemed exactly the same as when Sarah first gave it to Jason, but he knew better. The weapon was comprised of billions of reprogrammed nanites now, having learned to mimic the shape and function of the blade. They had succeeded in turning Eden’s own tools against him, but it was only a single weapon, and that knowledge couldn’t hold back a growing sense of dread.

“Dr. Harris?”

Don turned and spotted Trey in the doorway.

“A new batch of refugees is on the way in,” he reported.

“Thanks, Trey,” Don replied and turned to the team members. “All right, processing crew, please follow Dr. Douglas and me. The rest of you, perform your final tests on the nanites and report to me as soon as your work is complete.” He followed Trey from the room and down the hall with Sarah at his side and with the majority of the research team at their backs.

He cast a sidelong glance at Sarah. “I can’t recall if I ever actually complimented you on coming up with the new testing methods,” he commented.

“You didn’t,” she replied with a light shrug, “but that’s all right. It seemed a natural progression, testing for diminished iron and increased PH levels in the blood. You would’ve thought of it yourself eventually.”

“Perhaps, but you certainly saved us valuable time. We work well together, Sarah.”

Her smile was brief, but genuine, as they made their way briskly down the hall. “Yeah… I guess you aren’t so bad for a Harvard guy, after all, Don.”

All thoughts and attempts at conversation dwindled once the stream of people started flowing through the lab. Don and the other team members worked as quickly as they could, taking names and drawing blood samples while base security led people into a holding area to await the results of the Connor test, as Sarah had named it. During that time, another batch of refugees landed in the hangar, and the lab’s halls became crammed. People from multiple countries stood waiting in winding lines with dozens of languages filling the space.

“Yes, I understand,” Don told a babbling Chinese woman, gently pushing her toward one of the lines. “Please, wait over there, ma’am, I need to see to these other people first.”

He heard his name being called and snaked his way through the waiting crowds to Rick’s station. “Found another one,” he said quietly as he passed Don a small pile of paperwork.

“All right,” Don sighed. “I’ll inform security.”

“At this rate, we won’t finish processing all of these people before the end of the week.”

“Just do what you can,” Don told him as he went to find a guard.


A hand on Mike’s shoulder shook him from a doze. He came awake to the humming vibration of the carrier’s engines. “We’re landing shortly,” Walter told him, and moved to wake another soldier.

Mike leaned forward in the seat and rubbed his face. A full week they’d been at this, running rescue operations close to non-stop, grabbing food and sleep when they could in between sorties and trying to outrace the ticking clock that Eden had placed on their backs. His dreams had turned unpleasant ever since he’d overheard one of the engineers in the hangar mention that the base’s fuel supplies were running low. A full week, dozens of rescue missions across the globe, bringing back full loads of survivors, and it didn’t seem nearly enough.

The carrier touched down with a bump, and Mike straightened, shaking off his tiredness. He felt grateful to be back on American soil. As impressed as he was with Walter and his crews’ incredible breadth of languages, he felt better when he could speak directly with the people he rescued.

The carrier opened, exposing a view of Council Grove, Kansas. They’d touched down in the middle of a memorial park within sight of the tiny town’s main street. Mike saw people gathering before Walter had even picked up the megaphone. It hadn’t been terribly uncommon for their arrival to draw attention, but for a settlement that only boasted a population of about two thousand people, he was surprised at how quickly the crowd grew.

“Attention, people of Council Grove,” Walter said into the megaphone. At least fifty people drew closer to their location. “We’re here on behalf of the Global Security Council, in response to the recent tragedies at Washington DC and New York.”

Mike tuned out the rest. He’d heard the speech dozens of times in several different languages. People were leaving the buildings on the main street to join the crowd approaching the park, and something about them sent an uncomfortable prickle down his spine. The onlookers in a crowd this size should have been broadcasting curiosity or apprehension in their body language. These people felt eerily calm. Their movements were uniform, their pace measured and equal. He watched them approach with growing concern and drew his gun from its holster.

Mike saw movement from a half-dozen different places within the crowd. He grabbed Walter’s arm and pulled him back just as the air filled with the reports of gunfire. A soldier standing near one of the carriers cried out and fell. Bullets ricocheted off the outer hull of the planes.

“Cease fire!” Walter shouted into the megaphone. “We’re here to help—”

“It’s too late!” Mike yelled in his ear. “These people are infected!”

More guns fired, and the crowd separated into three groups, each one charging a carrier. Their precise, seemingly directed movements further drove Mike’s suspicion home. He grabbed the radio fixed to his vest’s shoulder and shouted, “Turn the guns on the crowd!”

“Everyone, fall back!” Walter shouted to the soldiers as the gun turrets on the outside of the carriers swiveled into place. A hail of bullets sprayed into the crowd, dropping the front ranks of people, but the horde’s advance didn’t waver, and the fallen staggered back to their feet to continue the assault. They reached the first carrier and swarmed over it, seizing the startled crew and pulling them out of the transport.

“Scuttle the transport!” Mike ordered. “We can’t let Eden access the flight computer and find the base!”

He, Walter and the soldiers retreated to the two remaining planes and pitched grenades toward the first. The turrets held back the main press as the overwhelmed plane exploded in a rolling ball of fire, but several assailants slipped through the storm of lead and charged. Mike threw off a blank-faced, middle aged woman as she tried to grab his throat and shot her in the head. One of the soldiers stumbled beneath a heavy-set man and managed to empty several rounds into his gut, but the assailant still grappled with him as if he was uninjured. Mike kicked the man away, shot out his kneecap to make it more difficult for him to move and dragged the soldier back to the carrier’s cabin.

“Get us in the air!” he heard Walter order. “Pilots, take off immediately!”


Don helped an injured soldier onto a gurney, being mindful of the gunshot wound in his shoulder, and scanned the hangar for Mike. Word had reached them about the attack before the surviving carriers had arrived. He spotted the former GSC agent emerging from a plane with Walter Jones’s burly arm slung around his shoulders as the security head limped his way across the hangar.

“Was it Eden?” Don asked as he approached Walter’s other side and helped take some of his weight.

“Yes,” Mike answered. “He ambushed us. The latest site was completely infected. If his virus has spread that far now…”

Olivia joined them as they helped Walter into the base, and the security head gave her a brief, terse report on the mission, his face tight with discomfort. Her gaze snapped to Don. “The other missions have been recalled, so what we’ve rescued is what we’ve got. What’s the status of the sleeper evaluations?” she asked.

“Of the fifty-thousand refugees on site, my team’s processed about forty-thousand,” he answered. “We’ve uncovered thirty-nine sleepers so far.”

“Fifty-thousand,” Olivia repeated, shaking her head. “That’s only enough to fill a single shuttle.” With a quick snap of her fingers, she summoned another security guard to her side. “Take some men and fit all the shuttles, except the Phoenix-3, with explosives. It’s the furthest back from the base’s entrance and most defensible, and we can use the other vessels as distractions. Barricade as much of the base as possible and begin loading the cleared evacuees onto 3.”

“What about the other captains, ma’am?” the guard asked. “Should I inform them of our course?”

Olivia shook her head. “Tell no one but those you need for the job. Tell the other captains to assist Captain McKay with loading his shuttle. And tell the rest of the security forces to prepare for an imminent attack.”

As the guard raced to obey, Don caught Olivia’s gaze. “What makes you so sure that we’re about to be hit?”

“Because it’s what I would do, once I’d finished infecting the planet,” she replied soberly.

A harsh, buzzing alarm sounded through the base’s halls, and Don saw Olivia’s jaws tighten. “Find a way to finish those last screenings, Doctor. Humanity’s last stand is about to begin.”